Hob in the Hole and the Giant’s Lapstone – Baysdale


 Hob Hole is located alongside a ford crossing Baysdale Beck, on the road between Kildale and Westerdale, five miles to the south of Guisborough.

 Up until the early 1800’s, a large boulder known as the ‘Giant’s Lapstone’ sat on the hillside overlooking the ford at Hob Hole. Around the year 1830, a great storm caused a landslip, which carried the boulder down the hillside and into the beck. The large rock must have come to rest close to the crossing, as it diverted the flow of water running over the ford. This led to the boulder being removed, which due to its size, had to be broken up.
(See this Youtube video of Gavin Parry and Bob Fischer at Hob Hole discussing the story behind the Lapstone boulder).

  The fate of the Giant’s Lapstone is recorded at the end of another folklore story from the Hand of Glory (Fairfax-Blakeborough, 1924), which relates the origins of the stone and how it came to be alongside the beck. The gist of this story is that a giant once lived in a cave on Stony Ridge – a high moorland, 3 miles to south of Hob Hole. The giant was a shoemaker, and he would sit outside his cave hammering pieces of leather on his lapstone to make the shoes. An evil baron moved into the district and began to corrupt all the young people in the area with his drinking and debauchery, and so the village elders approached the giant for help. With the aid of the giant’s daughter, the baron met his end when the lapstone boulder was dropped on him as he stood near the ford.
This story appears to have been inspired by an old folk ritual connected with the boulder, but there is a suspicion that the development of the tale may have obscured the original identity of the lapstone’s ‘owner’. As with the ‘Maid of the Golden Shoon‘ folktale (published in the same book), it seems likely that this story was also adapted and added to over the years, and then ‘worked up’ into a final form suitable for publication. This might explain the seemingly odd choice of the bleak and exposed high moor of Stony Ridge as the setting for the tale, even though there are no caves there to tie in with the published story. The giant’s profession as a shoemaker also seems odd – who would he be making shoes for up there? One explanation for this might be the character who is conspicuously absent from the story – that is the ‘Hob’ of Hob Hole – where the Lapstone boulder was actually located. If the giant was actually a Hob in the original folklore, this might explain the link with Stony Ridge, as the Hob of Over Silton was in the habit leaping from hilltop to hilltop around his cave. There is also the well known tradition of  supernatural ‘little people’ being shoemakers.

 Before the Lapstone was broken up, it was said to have had a foot shaped cavity on top of it, into which a ‘pure maiden’s’ foot would not fit. Where as that of an an ‘impure’ woman would fit easily. This aspect of the folklore sounds suspiciously ‘churchy’, and was perhaps an attempt to dissuade women from practising the fascinating fertility ritual recorded as taking place at the Lapstone.

Photo edit to show the suggested location of the Lapstone above the ford

 John Fairfax-Blakeborough’s description of the Lapstone boulder notes ….

 “But this was not the only attribute the once famous stone possessed. Newly-married women, generation after generation, made a point of claiming from it certain benefits for any child, or children, with which the gods might bless them. To secure these such a pilgrim was bound by certain conditions. Her visit must be paid on a Monday, and she must take with her a shoemaker’s hammer and a shoe for the left foot. The latter must be of the most artistic and expensive make procurable. On arrival she had to seat herself upon the stone and repeat a long doggerel rhyme, but imperfectly remembered half a century ago. Such portions as the late Mr William Scorer (born at Basedale Abbey towards the end of the eighteenth century) recalled, he gave to my father as follows –

Cobbler, cobbler, look on me,
I come to crave thy blessing,
I beat thy leather for thee.
Nine nails to bind the heel I take.
A wild boar’s bristle, long and strong,
To thy wax-end I fix it.
To nine long strands well rolled,
I wax them well with drawn wax,
I wax, I wax it well for thee.
I wet the welt, I beat the welt,
As on thy last I lay the welt.
Tough and firm from the middle hide,
Well-beaten on thy lapstone,
I lay the sole upon thy last.
Strong as nine wax-ends thrice-doubled,
So none but thy giant hands could pull asunder.

(Now lifting up the shoe the suppliant had brought along with her, she continued:)

The shoe is now made,
As well-shaped as it I now put on, I pray
May all my children be;
Strong in every part.
I claim but one shoe from thee to-day.
May I never have a two-birth.
I cast my old shoe from me,
Poor and shapeless.
No part upon the lapstone ever lay-
Into the water I cast it—
To it may all my ill-luck cling,
And that of all that shall be mine.
So cobbler look upon me
With favour and great graciousness,
I pray thee look upon me,
And all mine yet unborn ;
Ere I bid to thee good-day.”

(the dotted lines could not be remembered by Mr Scorer)

 This folk ritual, which used to take place in an isolated valley on the moors, is the type of superstitious practice long frowned upon by the church. It may have originally required placing a foot in the cavity on the stone, hence the insinuation that any women who did this was of loose moral character. However, the actual purpose of the ritual was to safeguard the health of her children, and this echoes the mothers visiting Hob Hole cave in Runswick Bay, where they would speak at the cave entrance, asking the Hob to use its powers to restore her child’s health.

 As noted in the Hobthrush of Over Silton post, Hobs are associated with rocks, caves, crags, and hilltops. The Hob-thrush name may have caused confusion in the past as the ‘thrush’ part is thought to derive from the Old Norse word ‘Thurs’ meaning a giant (or a wizard). However, Hobs are normally described as short, dwarf-like beings. The word Hob may have also had some connection with ‘hobby’, possibly referring to ‘small’ things (?), and so in some places the Hob-thrush may have been seen as the ‘little giant’, in other areas perhaps as the ‘small wizard’? Both being references to supernatural beings with magical powers. This would also tie in with the common folklore practice of not referring directly to such beings using a real name. Hob would mean ‘the small one’, and equivalent to people  referring to ‘the little people’.

 In the fairfax-Blakeborough story, the foot shaped cavity is described as being almost 2 feet in depth, and able to magically close up if a pure maiden tried to put her foot into it. A look around the other boulders and rocks in the Hob Hole area found no natural deep cavities, although some did have surface indentations left by eroded iron nodules. In rare cases, these type of ferrous concretions can form irregular pipe-like holes, and this may have been the origin of the foot shaped cavity on the Lapstone boulder. More commonly, these kind of markings occur as shallower depressions which can be foot shaped, so it is possible that the original folklore grew up around a foot shaped depression which looked similar to the indentations on a real cobbler’s lapstone, and in the years after the boulder was broken up, this became exaggerated in the story.

Foot mark and Lapstone
Foot shaped hollows on a rock at Simon’s Seat, and a Shoemakers lapstone with indentations for shaping leather

Hob in’t ‘Ole

  Hob Hole appears on a boundary perambulation for the year 1716, at which time it was called ‘Hob in the Hole’, and the ford was called ‘Skin Wath’. Did the ‘Hole’ refer to the stream valley where the ford is located, or did it perhaps refer to the hole in the Lapstone boulder – a locally well known feature? If this was the case, then it suggests that it was believed the Hob actually lived within the boulder – literally the ‘Hob in the Hole’. Such a belief in rock dwelling spirits – dwarfs, trolls, and giants, was common in Scandinavian countries, and there may be an echo of this in the actual story, where the evil baron is entombed beneath the stone. The Hob Hole at Runswick Bay was believed to be the dwelling place of a Hob, and so was  Boggle Hole Cave in Robin Hood’s Bay. The ritual which took place alongside the hole on top of the boulder in Baysdale could be seen as similar to that which took place at the Hob Hole cave at Runswick, where women would stand at the entrance and communicate with the Hob within. Following this line of thought, the Skin Wath name may have also been a reference to the leather used in the ritual, or the old left foot shoe thrown into the stream from the Lapstone.

 In the past there seems to have been some fertility or sexual symbolism connected with shoes, although the details are obscure. A woman having problems getting pregnant would put her foot into the shoe of a woman who had recently given birth, while shoes were thrown after newly married couples to promote a fruitful marriage. A coin placed in a bride’s shoe protected her husband from impotence caused by witchcraft. At some level the shoe would seem to have represented the female reproductive system (womb?), and there may have been a rather crude analogy with slipping a foot into a shoe (or in this case, between an easy birth and slipping the foot out of a shoe?). In the past there was a much greater risk of women dying during childbirth, along with children dying in infancy, and so this might explain why such a protective ritual could remain in use in isolated areas.

 There are traces of this shoe folklore also being connected with Hobs in some way. At Hob Hole, women would bring a new left shoe and throw the old one away as part of the ‘mother’ ritual. Ten miles further east there is the story of Jeanie of Biggarsdale, who lived in a cave alongside a waterfall in Mulgrave Woods.Versions of the story describe her as either a witch, an evil spirit, or a Hob. The Rev. Atkinson noted in his Glossary of the Cleveland Dialect (Atkinson, 1868) …..

“Hobtrush Hob, a being once held to frequent a certain cave in the Mulgrave Woods, and wont to be addressed, and to reply, as follows : —

” Hob-trush Hob ! Where is thou ?”
“Ah’s tying on mah left-foot shoe ;
An’ Ah ‘ll be wiv thee — Noo !”

 A Derbyshire folktale called “Hob Thrust and the Shoemaker of Dore” provides an even closer shoe connection, with the Hob actually making shoes that are then thrown out of a window. This would appear to have also given rise to a local expression “faster than Hob Thrust can throw shoes out o’ t’window!” (Addy, 1895) The story seems to be a local example of Grimm’s Elves and the Shoemaker type story, which suggests that this theme was known over a wide area. It is also worth noting that Grimm’s story has the elves being presented with clothes, which is a theme often associated with Hobs in the north of England. Further west, over in Ireland, there is also the well known small supernatural being called a Leprechaun, who was also a shoemaker.

 The Hobs connection with shoes and shoemaking is obscure, as is the suggested link with child bearing and children’s health. Those other ‘little people’ – the fairies, also had a particular interest in human babies and mothers laying in after childbirth, so this type of folklore may actually be the remnants of much older beliefs connected with human conception and safeguarding the souls of newborns. This is obviously a much wider subject, but some folklore from Britain and Scandinavian countries does hint at these rock dwelling or underground spirits being guardians of human souls after death, which has parallels with beliefs found in other cultures around the world, (see the note at bottom of this page).

  It really is a shame that the Lapstone boulder no longer exists, as its history was quite unique and fascinating. Perhaps there were people at the time who were happy to see the complete destruction of the boulder and the superstitions that surrounded it, but in reality it is another piece of our heritage that has been lost forever.

After Thoughts
The Hood Hill Stone (also destroyed!) had a foot mark on its upper surface.
The latin name for the bird of prey called a ‘Hobby’ is Falco Subbuteo – meaning ‘small falcon’.
A Shoemaker works with skin (leather) to create new things – some analogy with conception and birth?
What was the significance of the left foot shoe? one legged?
In Scotland there was a being called the Fachen, who was described as a one legged giant, or as the dwarf of Glen Etive.
Welsh word Hob means to swell.

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Addy, S.O. (1895) Household Tales and Traditional Remains.
Atkinson, J.C. (1868) Glossary of Cleveland Dialect.
Ellis Davidson H.R. (1968). The Road to Hel.
Fairfax-Blakeborough, J. (1924) The Hand of Glory.

End Note
 Early Christians believed that the human soul was immortal, created by God, and infused into the body at conception. These beliefs were adopted from Greek and Roman ideas in the pre Christian era, but it is less clear what the beliefs were in northern Europe. There are references to the early settlers in Iceland believing that they would “die into the hills” (Ellis Davidson, 1968), which suggests that the souls or spirits of ordinary people were thought to dwell in holy hills or mountains after their death. While those of their chieftains had their own grave hill or burial mound. Elsewhere there are stories of people who ventured into the fairy realm or entered fairy mounds when they were open, and saw people there who they knew were no longer amongst the living.

 Many of the indigenous tribal groups in Australia believe that the souls of their unborn children dwell within the hills and rocks at their sacred sites, waiting to be born. They also believe that their souls return to those sites after their death in order to continue the cycle. A similar belief seems to have existed amongst Native American tribal groups, who refer to rock dwelling spirits called the Makiaswisug or “little people” and the Uwani Azi – “Rock baby spirits”, meaning small, human-like beings. One description notes that …

“Rock babies are also called “mountain dwarves.” They are able to pass through solid rock as a portal between the spirit world and the mortal realm. For this reason, it is sometimes said that they actually live beneath the surface of the rock. They sometimes steal human babies and exchanging them for non-human look-alikes.”

 The similarities here with European dwarves and fairies is striking, and this perhaps points to these type of beliefs being very ancient.

The Lay of the Land


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